OPINION: Why are the bus funding proposals for Ipswich so bad?

Ipswich Buse

Some connected to Ipswich Buses are wondering if the county is playing politics with its Bus Back Better bid. - Credit: B Dickson

I still find it difficult to get my head around the fact that by the time the budget was announced yesterday many of the main provisions had already been published over the previous few days. 

According to veteran political hack Michael Crick the Treasury had put out 16 embargoed press releases over the weekend to drip-feed stories about what was in Rishi's little red box!

One of the main excitement nationally came with the news that there would be billions to spend on "levelling up" transport networks in the major cities of this country, especially Manchester and West Yorkshire.

Of course very little of that will find its way here - which is probably no bad thing when you consider Suffolk County Council's abysmal record when it comes to dealing with public transport in urban centres, especially Ipswich.

A couple of weeks ago the county unveiled its proposal for getting money from the government's "Bus Back Better" campaign following the pandemic's devastating affect on public transport.

Some of its ideas on rural public transport are worth a punt - although everyone needs to accept that for rural journeys the bus is always likely to be seen as the option of last resort for most people after the car and the train.

But the proposals for Ipswich were unbelievably bad in my view - and have left some in the public transport business in the town thinking the county may have a political vendetta against them.

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One positive in this is that the county is finally set to look at multi-operator ticketing in Ipswich. That's only about 20 years after Essex, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire took the leap in Colchester, Norwich and Cambridge.

But other aspects of the £50m bid are woeful in their impact on Suffolk's county town.

It sometimes feels as if Suffolk doesn't really like or understand the concept of park and ride. It appears to be the only (or at least one of the very few) local authority in the country who thinks that an adequate service like this can be run without a subsidy.

That, in turn, makes it one of the most under-used park and rides I know of.

The fact that the county closed the most successful park and ride site it had, at Bury Road, 10 years ago and has steadfastly refused to reopen it perhaps tells its own story.

Former Bury Road Park and Ride

Bury Road was the most successful park and ride site in Ipswich - but Suffolk County Council has refused to reopen the borough-owned site. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Trying to shift the failure of the park and ride service on to the borough council because it provides too good and too cheap car parks is lame - and perhaps adds to the feeling that the real reason for refusing to countenance the reopening of Bury Road is because the Conservative-run county doesn't want to work with the Labour-run borough on this.

Another reason for the failure of park and ride in Ipswich is, as I've said before, is that the town is nowhere near as difficult to drive around as other urban centres that do have successful park and ride schemes.

Cambridge, Colchester and Norwich all have much worse traffic problems than Ipswich and in all of them it's much more attractive to be whisked to the centre along bus lanes that cannot be used by other vehicles!

There is talk of having new express bus routes in the town - but here again there is a feeling in the transport business in Ipswich that the county council is just playing politics.

One senior driver at the borough-owned Ipswich Buses told me that all his colleagues had noted that these improvements were on routes that are primarily used by First Eastern Counties.

He said: "We all feel it's a political vendetta because we're owned by the borough."

I'm sure the county would deny that, though it does seem extraordinary that they are talking about  a "pocket park and ride" at Nacton (on an Eastern Counties route) but rejects re-opening the previously successful Bury Road site which is still there and happens to be owned by the borough.

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